More than a decade ago, I started witnessing the deterioration of my dad’s motor skills while he was living with Alzheimer’s disease.
This first started with the shuffling of his feet, known as a gait walk. I have a saying, “The further they advance into their dementia-related disease, the closer they keep their heels to the ground.” Sometimes as they make a turn, they may swing their outside foot instead of picking it up. When I teach Dementia Awareness classes for first responders, this is a topic we discuss at length.
We need to realize that all those living with dementia are at risk of falls. Some dementia-related diseases will be worse than others, especially Lewy Body dementia. This disease starts to evaporate their equilibrium shortly after diagnosis, making most go from a cane—to a walker to—a wheelchair in a relatively short period of time.
Cognitive impairment is only one of the symptoms they endure with dementia. Unfortunately, there are many more to come from these heartless diseases. I’ve watched my dad literally forget how to sit down in his chair and start circling like a lone wolf before I had to safely assist him.
In the latter stage of his disease, I would watch his hands shake to the point that there was nothing left on his spoon by the time he got it to his mouth. Irrational muscle movements, jerkiness, and slow reactions were all due to his faltering mechanics.
We need to realize that dementia is actually a term for multiple symptoms, and one of those under this umbrella term is a loss of motor skills. There is so much more affected by this illness than just dementia. Sadly, it is a long list.
My father nor I ever gave up on himself. We both knew he wasn’t the man he once was, but he kept on trying, and I always admired him for that. His failing motor skills were just one more thing he needed assistance with.
Substituting common procedures helped him immensely. I eliminated silverware as much as possible by serving finger foods—trading buttons for Velcro. Having him wear sweatpants helped to remove zippers and made bathroom visits so much easier. You need to get creative.
Please don’t take all their independence away; let them do as much as possible. Always allow them to preserve as much self-respect for as long as possible.
As caregivers, we need to adapt with them; change will come.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Dementia Spotlight Foundation